This niyama practice is sometimes translated as ‘application of heat.’ When we cultivate the discipline of tapas, we can meet challenges with equanimity
To write my first book, Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul, I needed a level of dedication and presence that came from within.
Unlike other projects, I had no assignment due date other than my desire to share about the profound journey I experienced during my week of panchakarma in Nagpur, India.
There was a place deep inside, I felt excited to share how this eight-day cleanse impacted me not just at the physical level but at the mental, emotional and spiritual levels.
Yet, after rewrites and multiple rejections from publishers, I persevered. I stayed focused on what an offering this book would be once it was published.
I embraced the setbacks as new challenges to work through.
This is not to say I never was discouraged. I certainly was at times.
I would sit with this discomfort and sometimes, I would have a good cry or shout out my frustrations.
I would also practice my yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation daily to support me.
Sitting down to write parts of the book, I practiced a form of the Raja Yoga niyama of tapas, which translates to “application of heat.”
Tapas comes from self-discipline, self-control in various ways. This process is about “mastering our own faculties and energies” as described by David Frawley in his book “Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality”.
The yamas and niyamas
All through the year, we have continued a series that takes a closer look at yoga’s ethical guidelines for living. These are called yamas and niyamas, and they fall under Raja Yoga, the branch that governs the disciplines about controlling the mind and senses. The first two branches on Patanjali’s eightfold path are yamas and niyamas.
Simply put, yamas are things not to do, niyamas are things to do. Yamas can be thought of as practices of self-restraint, while niyamas are virtues to cultivate, or observances.
As a reminder, niyamas are individual observances of self-restraint. In contrast to the yamas, which are concerned with social relationships and harmony with the world, niyamas are more of an internal journey. As described in the aphorisms by Pantajali, they serve as support for the path towards the part of Self that is all-knowing. Some may refer to that Self as the Ultimate Reality. These practices aid us in gaining harmony within as they aid in creating personal discipline.
There are five niyamas: saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya and isvara pranidhana.
The ‘application of heat,’ or to burn
From a yogic perspective, we can cultivate tapas through the asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathwork) and the yamas and niyamas that I’ve talked about in this series.
These various methods, or technologies, provide a framework for us to be present with the hardships we each face in our lives.
In the practice of tapas, we welcome the bumps in the road. What it looks like when you practice: You are steady and you have equanimity in all aspects of our lives.
As Rama Jyoti Vernon shared, in her book, “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Gateway to Enlightenment. Book Two,” tapas is “learning to endure any hardship by not seeking comfort but finding comfort wherever we are and whomever we are with. It is the ability to gracefully accept all situations and differences of people in our life with grace and ease.”
Daily life as a spiritual practice
This niyama is seen as the effort we put forth on our spiritual path and how this translates into our daily lives.
In Ayurveda, the science of life, the fire within us is referred to as “agni.”
Tapas helps us to stoke this fire as we move toward alignment with our higher purpose on this planet.
What fire or light can be shown into parts of our lives so we can be more whole as human beings?
The sharing of this niyama during this time of year is interesting as many faiths have rituals celebrating the light as we approach the darkest night of the year.
In the Catholic faith, there is an Advent ritual of lighting a purple candle for the first two Sundays for hope and faith, then a pink candle for love on the third Sunday. The final purple candle is for peace just before Christmas to prepare and be present with the energy of Christ as the birth is soon to be celebrated. Each candle represents hope, love, joy and peace.
Hanukkah is celebrated as a festival of light to dedicate eight days of celebration of Jewish strength, perseverance and continuity of their faith.
We just experienced a lunar eclipse, a time during which what is hidden can be revealed.
The Winter Solstice is soon upon us. Much can be revealed in the days (or nights) ahead if we choose to be present with our interior lives. This can be an exciting time and it can be uncomfortable. Here is an opportunity to practice tapas with the tools I have mentioned.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Is there a level of consciousness and love present with each of my actions today?
With the most current struggle in my life, how much of it is because of my own blindness and ego coloring the situation?
What new practice can I commit to (such as yoga, prayer, meditation or pranayama ) so as to support my deepening spiritual path in the next few months?
Is it possible to sit still long enough to hear what my next best steps would be?
MANTRA FOR SUMMONING THE FIRE WITHIN
This mantra is about the fire within.
In Ayurveda, it is known as “agni”, our digestive fire that not only helps to transform our food but our thoughts and emotions.
As you repeat the mantra, think of what you would like to let go, transform or even cultivate. It is from the ashes, rebirth is possible.
Remember, it is considered auspicious to repeat up to 108 times for a completion of what you are choosing.
Om agniye namaha
YOGA POST FOR TAPAS
This pose is about strengthening your core and creating heat in the process.
Plank pose on your elbows. Practice to your level and seek to go up to 2-4 minutes a day.